Daniel Jianing Liu, Hairdresser and Creative Director at Usfin Atelier and International Educator for Kevin Murphy, talks to us about overcoming insecurities, self-confidence and mastery of craft.
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Tell us a bit about yourself.
I started hairdressing in 2005 after I moved here from Shanghai when I was only seventeen. At that time, Australia happened to be in need of hairdressers. I really wanted to get residency here, which is what led me to apply in hairdressing. But, as soon as I started, I fell in love with it and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve been doing hairdressing for eleven years now but this is my first salon. I also travel to Singapore every three months and all over Australia quite frequently as an Educator for Kevin Murphy as well. I’ve been doing that for just over two and a half years.
Why Australia – what made you want to live here?
It was actually my parents’ decision – they sent me here to get a better education and future. Australians are a very open and friendly people and the weather here is definitely a bonus. But what I love the most is the freedom to travel all over the world. Australians have a lot of freedom when it comes to travelling – it’s easy to take it for granted. People may not realise how lucky they are – to have the freedom to just book a ticket and go to another country without having to worry about a visa application is a privilege. I love to travel so it’s something I really appreciate and try to enjoy as often as I can.
After eleven years in hairdressing, what made you finally decide to open your own place?
I’ve wanted to open my own studio for some time. My partner Xena is a photographer, as well as a floral designer. She’s my other half and the other half of Usfin Atelier. Together, we wanted to find a space that we could both work from and make our own. We were looking for a while. But it wasn’t until we found this place that we decided to do it – we fell in love with it on the spot. We knew it was the one and we knew what we had to do. So we opened up shop officially in February earlier this year.
This space is AMAZING. And I love the runway!
It took a while to get it all together and we actually installed the runway ourselves. The day we saw this place, it was only half-finished. The ceiling hadn’t been painted and the floor was half-timber, half-concrete. It was more like an old factory or warehouse. But we saw potential. It’s spacious, beautifully-sunlit, with high ceilings and natural lighting that streams through its large east-facing windows. It was the perfect blank canvas. It’s also big enough that we can host different workshops here – we often host the Kevin Murphy training courses here in Sydney and our workshops range from anything and everything to do with hair, floristry and photography which the runway is great for!
What made you choose Kevin Murphy?
Kevin Murphy is the largest, fastest growing cosmetics company in Australia. I love his products and really believe in what the brand stands for. I used to work in a salon in Newtown and that’s where I first met Nathan Gorman who owned the salon at the time. Nathan is someone that’s taught me everything I know about hairdressing and he currently holds the title of Headmaster for Kevin Murphy – which means he’s the Head Educator and Creative Director globally.
Several years ago, before he held that role, I started attending their training course because I wanted to challenge myself and really improve my craft. I really enjoyed the whole experience and just kept wanting to push myself more and more. It was at Nathan’s suggestion that I considered teaching as a way to further my skills. Over time, Nathan’s become a great mentor and friend to me – Kevin is like Nathan’s mentor, and Nathan is mine.
What’s the best lesson he’s taught you?
Ahh, too many! Hairdressing is a craft that truly requires years of experience. When I first started, I was very impatient. I would always think to myself, “what next!”, and “then what!”, and “what else?” But all the great hairdressers in Australia are probably in their fifties or forties – there’s not really anyone in their thirties or twenties and there’s a reason for that. It takes time. You need to have worked with a certain amount of clients, to be able to do a certain amount of all the different kinds of textures of hair. I’m in my thirties now – I just had my birthday recently and I feel like I’m only just getting that whole idea just a little bit now. Because to master the craft takes time. You really do need to take a step back and slow down to learn everything there is to learn. There are no shortcuts and I’ve only just started to realise that now after many, many years. You need to have a strong foundation of classic hairstyling techniques before trying to do an editorial look. It’s like learning to crawl before you walk, and learning to walk before you fly! But one of the most crucial things to remember is to treat hair with love. Nathan always told me that.
“Most of all, don’t forget to be kind. Be kind to yourself and to others, and remember to be generous.”
What’s it been like going from student to teacher?
It’s been very challenging and I feel like it’s more challenging for me because English is not my first language. I always had that in my mind – that my English wasn’t great and I felt like people couldn’t understand me when I spoke. It’s obvious I’m not a native speaker, so I always felt less confident about myself and my abilities as a teacher when I first started. But now I don’t feel that way anymore. Now I feel different.
Why is that?
It was really hard at first because I used to worry so much that students wouldn’t know what I was talking about. I was worried that they’d wonder why I was even teaching them when I couldn’t even speak perfect English. Nathan said to me one day, “Daniel, don’t ever worry about this sort of stuff. Never ever hold yourself down about it because here in Australia, everyone comes from somewhere else, and everyone respects that”. I had all that negative self-talk stuck in my head but eventually, with Nathan and the school’s encouragement, I slowly started to gain confidence in myself and my ability as a teacher and even more so as a hairdresser. They’ve always trusted me and always believed in me. They always knew I could do it, so with their encouragement I did.
Do you feel like you’ve become a better hairdresser from teaching?
Absolutely. You learn so much when you teach. I see it both as my privilege and my responsibility. As educators for Kevin Murphy, our goal is to pass on the knowledge of the craft that we’ve honed and accumulated over the years to the next generation of young hairdressers.
How did you meet Xena?
We met through a mutual friend – one of the photographers I used to work with a lot, also used to work with Xena a lot. One day they got to talking about travelling. She wanted to visit Scandinavia and I had just returned from a month long stay there, so our friend suggested that she get in touch with me for some recommendations. So she did and we became just friends at first. But eventually, we both realised how much we had in common. We both love to travel and take inspiration from nature, fashion, design and architecture. We realised how much we enjoyed doing the same things together and started to gradually spend more and more time with each other. That’s how we got together in the end and we’ve been together ever since.
Has there been any challenges working together?
Haha it’s been interesting. You end up seeing each other very often – like every day. But Xena gives me a lot of inspiration. We’re both creative people so we try to avoid taking control of the same areas in our business. Her craft is quite different to mine so we both have our own ideas when it comes to what we do, but we like to take inspiration from each other as well.
Where did the name Usfin come from?
Usfin is a philosophy and it’s really become a standard that we hold ourselves to, no matter what we do. ‘Us’ as in ‘we’, and ‘fin’ stands for ‘the finest standard’. Our aim is to deliver the finest standard of everything that we do, no matter what it is. And it’s something we measure ourselves against every day.
What advice do you have for Brides and Grooms to ensure they have beautiful hair for their wedding day?
I think it’s very important to look after your hair way before the wedding day, especially for those who have or want coloured hair. It’s very important to refresh that tone months before the wedding to avoid any disappointment. Find a professional hairdresser that you love and trust and set an appointment for a consultation. Ask them how often you need to come back, what their hair colouring process is and how they plan to achieve the colour you’re after.
Generally for Brides, I recommend a consultation at least 3 months in advance to give your hairdresser the best chance of ensuring your hair colour, style and texture is in perfect condition for the day. For Grooms, I recommend a consultation at least 2 months in advance. Professional hair styling for men can actually make such a big difference in hair shape – a professional hairdresser can apply different techniques to ensure that your cut is not only tailored for you, but is also most flattering for your head shape.
Do you have advice for other young people, especially for those that don’t speak English as their first language, who are thinking about or have started to pursue a business that they’re passionate about?
Actually being able to speak another language fluently is the biggest advantage you could ever have. Speaking another language helps you relate to different people differently and it shows you’re making an effort. No one can ever take that away from you so long as you’re trying your best. So don’t let yourself be your own worst enemy. Don’t give in to your own negativity. Use your strengths to give you courage and try to always remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Focus on what it is you’re passionate about and use that knowledge to drive you forward and help you shift your mindset. Most of all, don’t forget to be kind. Be kind to yourself and to others, and remember to be generous. You never know where your journey will take you, but do these and the right people and the right opportunities will somehow come along.
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Visit www.usfin.com.au for more on their craft.